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Posted: 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013

I-Team Investigation: Lottery Targets Retailers Who Steal Winning Tickets

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By Jim Otte

Dayton -For some people working at Ohio Lottery outlets, the lure of easy money is too much to resist. In the last two years, 24 workers at gas stations and carryouts statewide have been caught stealing winning tickets from unsuspecting lottery players. The stolen prize money ranged from $5 to $10,000.

How were they found out?

The lottery's own investigative unit not only caught them in the act, their crimes were all captured on video. "Our main focus is that we want to protect the integrity of the lottery," said Dave Pollock, Ohio Lottery Investigation Supervisor. Pollock heads a unit of undercover agents who travel to lottery retailers across Ohio armed with hidden cameras.

With cameras rolling, they bring winning tickets to carryouts, ask the store worker to check the ticket and return to the counter to ask "Any winners?"

At one Dayton carryout, the employee, Fathi Hamed, said "No." In fact, Pollock said, the ticket was actually worth $10,000.  Investigators told the I-Team in many cases, the store worker will look directly at the customer and lie about the value of the ticket. "They'll come out and say, 'No you don't have any winners,' or it is a $500 winner and they will say you won $5," Pollock said.

The investigative unit has a perfect record when it comes to convictions. All 24 cases where criminal charges have been filed resulted in guilty pleas. Hamed lost his job and later confessed in court to the theft. He avoided jail time when he qualified for the diversion program for first-time offenders.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Investigators said lottery players should sign each of their tickets to prevent someone else from trying to cash them. Lottery outlets also offer self-check terminals so that players can determine for themselves if they have won or not.

Michael Sliger, owner of Bee-Gee's Minit Market, said customers should listen for the alarm that rings on the lottery terminal when a winning ticket is validated. The machine will sound the alarm, "Winner, Winner." The terminal's sign will show the dollar amount of the winning ticcket.

"Another quick, easy thing is to ask for a receipt," Sliger said.

Sliger said he does not mind lottery investigators testing the honesty of his fellow retailers. "Most of the people are up and up but there are a few (retail) agents out there that have had some issues and I have customers who have had issues with agents," Sliger said.

Despite increased competition from other gaming venues, like casinos in Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus, the lottery had a record year for ticket sales in 2012. Total ticket sales from June 2011 to June 2012 was $2.7 billion, according to the lottery's 2012 annual report.

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